The Last Sunday After Epiphany
The Transfiguration of our Lord
February 11, 2018
Pastor Frederick Casmer
"IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE"
Did you see it? The world witnessed a rare lunar phenomenon, called the super blood moon on Wednesday morning, January 31st. The spectacle is a combination of a total lunar eclipse, a super moon and a blood moon. It won’t happen again for 165 years. None of us will be here to see it.
Although you may have missed it, everyone knows there was a super blood moon on January 31st. We watched it on TV and the internet, read about it in the newspaper and saw countless photos taken from around the world. It actually happened whether you saw it or not.
Although you and I were not personally present at the Transfiguration with Peter, James and John, we also know what happened there. We have their eyewitness account recorded in the NT so that we can say with Peter and the hymn writer: “IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE!” 1. To show us the Savior’s deity. 2. To prepare us for the Savior’s agony.
The witnesses to the Savior’s transfiguration were His three closest disciples: Peter, James and John. They also witnessed some other startling events in Jesus’ ministry: raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mk 5:37) and His prayer in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:37). One Lutheran Bible commentator says: “They were to witness his greatest glory on earth, but also his deepest degradation. Both required the fuller faith.”
They weren’t the only eye witnesses. “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (v4). Moses had personally received the law from God and Elijah had defended that law in an age of widespread unbelief. Together they represented the entire OT: the Law and the Prophets. What were they talking about with Jesus? Luke says: “They spoke about his departure (Greek: exodus) which he was about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). The original exodus was God’s way of rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt by the Passover lamb’s blood. This exodus would lead Jesus to the cross to rescue sinners from their slavery to the guilt, power and punishment of sin. There was but one plan of salvation and Jesus was it. The blood of thousands and thousands of lambs sacrificed for hundreds of years meant nothing, and God cannot “pass over” our sins if the blood of the Lamb of God were not poured out for us.
What happened on the mountain was startling. “There he was trans- figured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (vv 2-3). Matthew says, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (17:2). Luke reports: “The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (9:29). As true God, Jesus from eternity possessed divine glory. For most of the 33 years Jesus lived visibly on earth, however, His divine nature was masked behind His human nature. But by giving a glimpse of Jesus’ glory that would be His forever after His crucifixion and resurrection, the Father showed the disciples He is true God.
Alfred Ayer, an Oxford professor, experienced four minutes of “death” when his heart stopped beating. He describes confronting a penetrating bright light. Although he had been an atheist all his life, he now believes there is a power that governs the universe and possibly life after death.
A Gallup poll says that 8 million Americans have had such near-death experiences. Many describe floating above their body, seeing bright lights and loved ones and Jesus Himself. But they are uncertain signs. They have been explained as hallucinations or a psychological coping mechanism.
Were the disciples dreaming or hallucinating? Did the reflection of the morning sun off the snowcapped mountains make Jesus look bright? Such explanations demean Christ’s glory and insult His inerrant Word. Thirty years later Peter was still sure of what he saw that day: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty… We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain” (2 Pe 1:16,18).
Peter said: “‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened)” (vv 5-6). Why not stay there forever and not deal with the realities of life? What Peter did not realize was that the special moment on that mountain was not about escaping the world. Rather God confirmed again that Jesus was His Son and He would die and rise again. As they followed Jesus back down the mountain He tried to tell them, but they still did not understand. They did not understand they were following a Man who would die for their sins. “IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE!” not only to show us the Savior’s deity, but also 2. To prepare us for the Savior’s agony.
The Father’s testimony prepared the disciples for their Savior’s agony.
“Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’” (v7). In the OT such a cloud was a visible manifestation of God’s presence (Ex 40:36-38; 1 Kg 8: 10,11). The voice from the cloud was the voice of the Father, another testimony that Jesus is true God. Notice God didn’t say, “Take a picture!” God would ensure that later by inspiring the Gospel writers. Just “I love him!” Then shouldn’t we too? “Listen to him!” Shouldn’t we do that too?
Sad to say, many don’t listen to Jesus or care what He has to say. Many follow the teaching of universalism and believe that there are many ways to heaven. They deny Jesus’ words: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Others think they can save themselves with good intentions and good works. They deny Jesus’ clear words: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5b).
What about us? The danger, even for us who put our faith in Christ, is that we become so accustomed to hearing His Word that it becomes routine. Familiarity breeds indifference to His Word and disobedience to His will. We “listen to him!” in church, Sunday School, Bible class and daily devotions.
Strangely “Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (v9). Why? Many did not understand Jesus or His reason for coming to earth. Only after His resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost did that purpose become clear. If the disciples had proclaimed it before Jesus had fulfilled all He came to do, who would have believed it? Even after Jesus’ resurrection, many still did not believe their account. Many still don’t.
But we are no longer bound by Jesus’ command to keep quiet because He has risen from the dead. Now is the time to tell others that God’s Son was arrested, beaten and killed to pay for our sins. Invite them to worship during Lent to prepare them for the Savior’s agony. Now is the time to tell them that this Man who is also God did not stay dead. Invite them to worship on Easter to show them the Savior’s deity once again. We cannot stop testifying to Christ’s glory, because they will see it only if they believe it now. May God grant us the faith to say what Peter said because we believe we will one day see what Peter saw: “IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE!” AMEN.